Healing Moscow Film Fest Showcases Young, Old

MiffBurduli's "Conflict Zone," a highly touted film in the "Perspectives" section. ��
The Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF) that opens Friday will give the local film world a chance to calm down after its recent financial and political turmoil.

The festival's president, director Nikita Mikhalkov, has hardly been out of the news since December, when he announced that he would stand down as head of the Cinematographers' Union only to see his designated successor and protege, actor Mikhail Porechenkov, shunned by union members in favor of veteran director Marlen Khutsiev.

Many court cases and much bad blood later, a repeat election called by Mikhalkov saw him put his own name forward again, and he was controversially re-elected in April.

The pro- and anti-Mikhalov sides will meet at the festival. One of the more vocal opponents of Mikhalkov in the dispute, director Nikoal Dostal, appears on the festival's program with "Pete on the Way to Heaven." Organizers said it proved that wounds were healing in the film world -- the festival will help to show whether this is true or not.

Dostal's film is among the more highly tipped entries in the competition program, expanding themes from his 1991 masterpiece "Cloud Heaven" and 2005's "Kolya: The Rolling Stone" by having a central character who is a naive, drifting character that lets life make his decisions for him.

If the Kinotavr film festival, which closed in Sochi last week, profiles a new generation of directors -- those in their thirties or younger -- MIFF has gone for a distinctly more senior choice from local directors in the main competition.

As well as Dostal, the other local veterans on show are Mosfilm director Karen Shakhnazarov, with his adaptation of the Chekhov short story "Ward Number Six," and Alexander Proshkin, who directed the television version of Dr Zhivago, and his work "Miracle." The fourth post-Soviet filmmaker is veteran Russian-Ukrainian Kira Muratova, the Odessa-based director who is well into her seventies but has been working as productively as anyone in the industry over the last decade. Her film is "Melody for a Barrel Organ."

The president of the jury will be another senior figure, Pavel Lungin, who marks his 60th birthday this year and whose historical drama "The Tsar" opens the event. It screened at Cannes, and this story of the troubled relationship between Ivan the Terrible and his spiritual adviser brings strong performances from the ascetic Pyotr Mamonov and the late Oleg Yankovsky, the last screen role for the acclaimed actor who died earlier this year.

Lungin's presence also marks a kind of peace offering. In his last appearance in 2000, when he showed his film "The Wedding," he was involved in a distinctly acrimonious row with the event's then-director about his film.

Lungin's laconic verdict at the time was that MIFF was a truly unique festival, as it was the only one in the world where the organizers insulted their guests.

Despite the veteran names in the competition, the real focus may be on the supporting programs, in particular the parallel "Perspectives" competition for first-time directors.

Chief selector Kirill Razlogov said he hoped that MIFF's future would be based around its role as an "opener of new talents." Local presence includes Andrei Eshpai's "The Event", an adaptation of a Nabokov play, and, perhaps more viscerally, Georgian director Vano Burduli's "Conflict Zone," a human drama based around the chaos and collapse of the post-Soviet Caucasus.

With 24 sections in its full program and an independent Russian program playing at Dom Kino, there is plenty of choice for viewers, from spotlights on Bulgarian and Indian contemporary film to a retrospective of classic Georgian cinema and tribute programs to the likes of Italian director Marco Ferreri, Polish director Jerzy Skolimovski and India's Shyam Benegal.

There is also the well-established and respected smaller parallel programs such as "8 1/2 Films," "Asian Extreme" and "Moscow Euphoria."

On the industry sidelines, there is also a new three-day co-production forum that hopefully shows Russia's interest in integration into the wider international film world, especially with Europe.

Two or three years ago, local producers were effectively saying that their local market had the money and audience to go its own way. Circumstances today mean that has changed considerably, with many projects postponed or halted in production. If MIFF can place itself as an intermediary in that process, it can only add to the festival's own long-term perspective.

The Moscow Film Festival runs June 19 to June 28. For full details, see www.moscowfilmfestival.ru.